Reason Time – Reggae Album sales are low, but what does this mean?

April 23, 2014

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Reason Time… an occasional column by Angus Taylor. All his opinions his own. All research subject to deadlines!

 

On March 1st the Jamaica Observer published yet another article about album sales in reggae being low – based on Billboard Chart positions versus Nielsen SoundScan figures for the USA and Canada.

Despite debuting at number one on the Billboard chart Sean Paul’s new album Full Frequency had sold just 2,160 copies. This is contrasted with his hit album Dutty Rock which “opened with 65,000 copies in November 2002

At the time of writing Tarrus Riley’s Love Situation had sold 1,126 copies, Gyptian’s Sex Love & Reggae had sold 3,899, while Shaggy’s Out of Many, One Music had 2,777.

This has fuelled the usual “is reggae dead?” questions in the international community and the ongoing narrative for the Jamaican media of “when is our music going to be accepted wholesale by America?

But as usual the article simply gave us figures without contextual analysis – figures that raise more questions than answers.

#1 How reliable a picture do Nielsen figures give these days?

#2 How do on demand streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, where people “rent” rather than buy music, fit into this? Are they popular enough in the US to have an effect?

#3 Isn’t the question about whether people consume entire albums in music generally, as much as whether reggae is selling well? For example if I buy an entire album bar two tracks I think are filler on iTunes, should that count as a sale?

#4 Have albums ever been that relevant in reggae which traditionally used the single as currency? And how do vinyl sales, which have been increasing, colour the picture?

#5 Bar a few notable exceptions has the USA and Canada ever been that strong a seller for reggae compared to other territories? Particularly modern reggae where buying habits may not include buying whole albums?

#6 We’re always hearing about sales in the US – what about sales in Jamaica? Surely the problem starts at home?

#7 Piracy has long been a part of reggae in the form of radio, pressed up CDs, DVDs and soundtapes. Mass file-sharing has made consumers’ money-saving tactics more destructive for sales. But this has been the case for years now. The debate is moving on, as streaming attempts to plug the hole created by piracy – so isn’t pointing to album sales and comparing them to when Sean Paul went gold somewhat behind the curve?

#8 So the charts don’t give a reliable picture of sales? Likewise this has been the case for a long time.

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